2016 Hall of Fame Nominee
Williamsburg Middle School
2016 Finalist from SCOLT
Language teachers know why learning a language and its culture is a vital part of every child’s education. Unfortunately, sometimes teachers have had to advocate for their subject and recruit students, especially in an environment of budget cuts. Thankfully, there also appears to be a wave of change in which non-language educators, administrators and families are recognizing the importance of World Languages. They are starting to understand that learning a second (or third) language and its culture makes a child’s education more relevant to the demands of today's world as they enter adult life. The world has become a community in which we need to understand one another linguistically and culturally. School systems and states demonstrate this by including World Language as part of the core curriculum and adopting the Seal of Biliteracy.
Learning a language and its culture is a life skill which enables one to communicate with a variety of people, have a more open mind, and embrace differences. Language learners benefit from enhanced intellectual development, improved chances to get into college, more career opportunities, greater ease of travel, and a better understanding of their own language. An emphasis on language learning will enhance America’s image abroad and better prepare us to compete in the global economy. Over the years I’ve heard from many former students whose experience in my class has laid the groundwork for future enrollment in study abroad programs, specialization in language in college, and using Spanish to advance their career. Language teachers need to emphasize that language is more than a school subject. It is a life skill that prepares students for their future.
Teaching a World Language is inseparable from its culture. Middle schoolers are by nature self-absorbed and entrenched in their own popular culture. The challenge for language teachers is to broaden students’ world view and help them see commonalities and differences in language and culture. Years ago I was taught to integrate culture in my teaching, but not focus solely on culture with a big “C” but also with a small “c”. Just because I might be interested in the roots of Flamenco or the Ballet Folklórico de México doesn’t mean my students will be.
How does a 60 year old Hispanophile begin to share the culture of middle schoolers in other countries? My solution has been to establish an e-mail exchange between my students and their counterparts in Spain. Not only are they able to practice writing, but they are also made aware of the similarities and differences of other teenagers. Last spring, imagine my excitement as 21 of my students got to meet their “keypals” at a chocolatería in Valladolid, Spain. I can’t think of a more authentic linguistic and cultural experience.
The mission statement of my school, “Educating the Whole Child for the Whole World,” supports the belief that learning a language and its culture are essential in producing global citizens of the 21st century.